FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla -- The Florida Gators' defense is preparing to face perhaps the most unique test it's had all year in Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins.
Perkins, a senior who bounced around college football at Arizona State and Arizona Western Community College before transferring to Virginia, has been nothing short of dynamic in his two years with the Cavaliers.
In his senior season, Perkins not only has passed for 3215 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions on a 64% completion rate, but he also leads the team in rushes (213) and rushing yards (745). Perkins has taken quite a few sacks - 38, to be exact - so in all honesty, his rushing yards are probably a lot higher than 745 as college sacks are considered to be a rush.
Florida has faced a couple of college football's big-name QBs this year, including Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow of LSU, Georgia's Jake Fromm, and Missouri's Kelly Bryant, but none have quite presented the dual-threat that Perkins provides to the Virginia offense.
"I think he has 100 more touches than anybody on the offense," Florida BUCK rush end Jonathan Greenard told the media on Saturday.
"He has 100 more carries than any running back on the team," Greenard continued. "That just tells you all it is right there. He's going to call his number. He's their guy. He's a dynamic athlete who works. He's been pretty successful all year."
Soak that in. Not only has Perkins thrown it 456 times this year - 29 more passing attempts than Florida has combined for - but he's out-carried the running backs on Virginia's roster by at least 102 rushes. Snaps in which Perkins decided where the ball is going have averaged 5.92 yards per play in 2019.
"It's always important to watch out for the quarterback when you play a dude like that," said Gators cornerback Marco Wilson. "Because out of nowhere he just tucks the ball and runs."
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham went a bit more in detail as to the threat that Perkins provides.
"[Perkins] creates an 11-on-11 game because of the style in which they play," said Grantham. "Which, what that does is creates an extra gap defensively for you to feel because like if the quarterback is a non-runner or a non-factor, then it's really 11-on-10 and you can play with an extra guy in coverage and things like that, whereas when it's 11-on-11 you have an extra gap to fill so you've got to play it a little differently.
You've also got to understand relative to the call how you rush, because there's six rush lanes so if you have four guys rushing, you've got to collapse the pocket outside in to keep the guy in the pocket.
And then the thing on the pass plays is as you distribute because the guys are going down the field, a guy that is athletic like that, if he makes a guy miss and can get out in space, now you have an athlete with the ball in his hand in space. So that becomes an issue."
While Burrow added a bit of a rushing threat when Florida traveled to LSU in October, tallying 43 yards on six keepers, Florida hasn't had to prepare for a serious dual-threat lime Perkins before. So, how are they doing it?
Grantham told the media that, during the bowl practices in Gainesville, early-enrollee quarterback Anthony Richardson, a 6-4, 233 lb. dual-threat himself, ran the scout team to give the Gators' defense similar looks to what Perkins shows on film. QB Nick Sproles also took scout team snaps, as well as the occasional running back.
Greenard believes that, with a couple of big hits on Perkins early on, things should get easier for Florida.
"Any time you've got a running quarterback, if you hit him a couple times, it's definitely going to change him," Greenard continued. "They understand that he's going to feel our presence a lot more.
"However we definitely just have to make sure that we still contain him at the end of the day. Even if we get one sack on him, we've still got to stay the same and be persistent on our pass rush."
Florida certainly has the personnel to wreak havoc on Perkins and Virginia's backfield. Senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga is set to return from injury for his final game as a Gator, re-joining the SEC's leading team in sacks.
"Overall, it's going to be a tough challenge and we've got our work cut out for us," said Greenard. "We still know what we've got to do."